I’ve just got out of a Porsche GT3 RS and into a Caterham 620R. This is one of those surreal moments where you think that things cannot possibly get more hardcore or extreme, and then they do. It must be said that the 620R is not a car for the faint hearted – any Caterham sits on the more driver focused end of the spectrum, the 620R takes the levels of hardcore to new heights. Let me explain why. There is no windscreen, none. There is no traction control, ABS or power steering. The Avon cut slicks cannot be used in the rain or anything colder than pizza oven hot tarmac. You’ll need your local plastic surgeon on standby for a skin graft if your leg wanders near the exhaust upon exit or entry and then there is the sequential gearbox. Oh my, this gearbox is not meant for rush hour traffic in London, nor anything less than 10/10ths driving at full throttle. The Caterham 620R is horrendous.
Then you get it out of the city and onto an open stretch of tarmac and it blows you away – literally. This car, sorry – rocket, makes the GT3 RS seem like child’s play. This bobsleigh weighs just over 600 kilograms and packs 310 supercharged horsepower. That is just offensive, such numbers belong on racecars – the results are frankly, unhinged and I am still struggling to fathom just how this is legal. The car may be legal, the speeds you achieve will not be. 0-100km/h is done in 2.8 seconds, a number that shames not only the GT3 RS, but also the Ferrari F12 tdf and 488 Pista, McLaren 720S and Lamborghini Aventador to name a few. How? Well for starters that silly power to weight ratio and then you notice that it will do the benchmark sprint in FIRST GEAR.
The 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine has been heavily tuned and the whopping great supercharger makes it pull like nothing I’ve experienced before. The accompanying devilish whine is addictive and possesses you to chase the redline – only there isn’t one on the rev counter. That is there for some reason other than telling you when to shift up because it goes to 9,000rpm but the engine runs out of puff well before. The solution? Shift when you run out of bravery, or when the racecar shift lights flash so hard you feel an epileptic seizure coming on. Then we come to the shifts themselves.
The 620R has one of the tightest footwells I have ever experienced, there is barely room for both of my Pingu sized flippers – no chance of left foot braking – just as well seeing as I managed to lock up the front wheels using my right foot. The sequential box has a clutch pedal but you only need to deploy it when pulling away in first gear. This is not something easy to do. The clutch pedal itself is rather long; the actual operating window for it to have an effect on the clutch plates is as thin as my little finger. As a result, an idiot like me will stall four times in front of all the Caterham staff waving me goodbye having warned me never to apply throttle and steering angle at the same time. Yes, really.
Once you’re off and suitably red faced after the series of stalls, you simply push or pull the stubby sequential shifter to bang home another gear. I mean bang home, the entire car bucks and lurches with a gear shift, it is so hardcore that you’ll try to deploy the clutch just to ease the shifts and save yourself the physical assault. Anyone who has ever complained about an Aventador’s single clutch needs to man up.
Sunday morning, dry and quiet. Not for long. I’m on my favourite stretch of country road and it is empty enough for tumbleweeds to make an appearance. First gear engaged, release the clutch with no throttle (that is the trick) and mash the gas. The rear tires spin hard, the supercharger is whining and the shift lights are flashing so furiously Rudolph came out of hibernation. The cut slicks stop smoking and grab the tarmac, the acceleration is savage. Stay flat and pull for second – staying flat is when the gearbox makes sense, the shift is smooth and faster than almost anything I’ve felt before. So is the car.
I would love to tell you how fast I was going but there is no speedometer, just a tiny read out that would be more at home on an 80s Casio watch than a dashboard – for good measure it is also obstructed by the rev counter needle. The dashboard itself is rather amusing – it is spartan and half of the switches on the dash are for things the 620R does not have. These include windscreen wipers and heating. No matter, second is over in the blink of an eye and the wind is pounding my face. Into third I can feel my chubby cheeks flapping. There’s a corner approaching fast – with heat in the tyres and brakes the car slows tremendously quickly, the gearbox shifts down with a heavy fist and without hesitation. I think I’m carrying far too much speed but the mechanical grip is otherworldly. A poke of the throttle makes the rear end want to have a waggle. The tiny go kart like steering wheel responds remarkably to the counter steer and I feel like an absolute hero.
The sensations and involvement of this machine are unique to the Caterham 620R. The only thing I imagine could possibly be as quick as this is a BAC Mono and that is a single seat racer that is allergic to any real world driving. The Caterham is as hardcore as they come. It has a character that you learn. I honestly hated this car when I first drove it. It left me aching – something no other car has ever done. It’s only when you unleash it’s full potential in conditions that it has been built to relish that it comes into a league of its own. The Caterham 620R is a stripped out lunatic that you yearn to tame, when you do it becomes one of the best cars on the planet. Bravo Caterham, this is something special.